The Broadway Theatre: Community owned and operated

By in Culture

The Broadway Theatre has undergone many transformations since it’s construction 70 years ago. Now, the community-owned arts and culture centre provides increasingly diverse events that cater to a growing Saskatoon population, creating its very own community.

Over the years, the Broadway Theatre has been a popular venue for the people of Saskatoon and has a unique history to show it.

Broadway Theatre - Jeremy Britz
The Broadway Threatre hopes to branch out for future events.

In the post-war years of the 1940s to 1960s, the theatre became a prominent entertainment destination, but as the neighbourhood surrounding the theatre started to decline, so did the theatre.

However, in the mid-1970s, the venue started to regain popularity by showing adult films, and by 1983, the theatre turned around again and started booking art-house films.

Art-house is a film genre that includes movies that are typically independently produced, appeal to a niche market and include a mix of lesser-known actors and modest production sets. Filmmakers explore topics and ideas that wouldn’t appeal to a mainstream market and therefore depend on independent theatres to show their films.

The theatre’s biggest transformation occurred in 1993 after a public fundraising drive, when the community group Friends of the Broadway Theatre purchased the theatre. The group has non-profit and charitable status, which is what allowed the theatre to become community owned.

At this time, the theatre briefly closed but then reopened — and for the first time started hosting local musicians and other live events, along with film screenings.

Skip ahead a couple of years to 2008 — this is when the current executive and artistic director Kirby Wirchenko was hired.

Wirchenko’s initial focus was bringing more live entertainment to the stage, which has proved successful.

“I started here nine years ago. All the work I did during the first couple of years was to change the community’s mind, that the Broadway Theatre wasn’t just that old movie theatre that played movies. We wanted the public to know the Broadway Theatre is an arts and culture centre that does music, movies, theatre, spoken-word poetry, dance, comedy, corporate rentals, private rentals and kids events. I think we did that,” Wirchenko said.

In the time he has been a part of the Broadway Theatre team, the annual attendance has almost tripled. Wirchenko now hopes to expand the theatre’s presence even more.

“The thing we are trying to do now is transition people’s minds from the Broadway Theatre being the building on Broadway Avenue to being an organization, because we present in a variety of venues now. When the Broadway is in the Bassment, or in Amigos, or in Louis’ on campus, we want people to know that the organization has pushed outside of the four walls,” Wirchenko said.

Being community owned, the theatre is run by a non-profit board, which is made up of 12 volunteers who handle the legal side of the organization — ensuring that the theatre is adhering to its non-profit status requirements. Along with the board, there is also a staff of about 17 people and many volunteers who help in a variety of ways.

In order to serve the community, the team at the Broadway Theatre uses feedback in the form of emails, phone calls or in-person comments to try to cater to the diverse population in Saskatoon.

With this feedback, the venue books live music, theatre, dance performances, comedy shows and many mid-level artists, who would otherwise have no place to perform.

The theatre seats 430 people, which is significantly larger than any bar in Saskatoon, but significantly smaller than O’Brians Event Centre. This niche size provides a perfect setting for dance troupes, comedians and cultural performers, which other spaces may not.

Another unique feature at the Broadway Theatre is that it serves alcohol, but is still an all-age venue. They are able to do this because they are classified as an auditorium, even when they expand into other venues such as the Cosmo Seniors Centre. This opens up shows and concerts to people of all ages, while not restricting these performances to 16+ or 19+.

By doing this, the theatre caters to everyone in the community.

“We make ourselves accessible to anyone who needs us for anything they need,” Wirchenko said.

Sydney Boulton

Photo: Jeremy Britz / Photo Editor